In the modern, western world, we can be prone to think that technological advancements are the solutions to the overarching problems we are facing in the coming decades. Increasingly, we are dependent on ‘high’ technology solutions to provide solutions to relatively small, everyday or infrequent problems.Examples of these technologies include numerous mobile apps intending to educate or remind a smart phone user – such as Evernote for memory optimization or GPS apps for navigation –  but ultimately, these solutions can make someone more forgetful or reduce his own knowledge of a place because of reliance on a device.

Many of us believe that the same technology concept, product or system can be extrapolated and incorporated to the scale level of the problem (i.e. local, global). But what if these technology solutions are incompatible with the scale, society or environment we are trying to serve?

This trend echoes the greater problem and defines two issues: (1) We are becoming increasingly removed from nature with an equally increasing desire to be immersed in it.  (2) We are beginning to reap the problems of failing infrastructure, whether by lack of investment, problematic design and/or maintenance.

Maybe instead of looking inward, let’s look outward and begin to find solutions that adequately address these issues. The case study I propose is the “living root bridges” in Northern India and Japan.

An example of a living root bridge being used.

These structures foster the human bond to nature and provide access to the resources and information “across the way.” Similar to bonsai trees, these bridges are trained by humans who guide the roots of trees to form intricate patterns across a ridge or stream. Over time, the roots grow and strengthen providing truly resilient infrastructure solutions that can last for generations.

Sometimes, the most innovative, effective solutions to today’s planning and design problems can be found in simple, low-tech solutions, rather than increasingly complicated and technology intensive ones. Additionally, low-tech solutions often have greater life-spans and require less material and maintenance costs. When compared to typical bridge design and their theoretical, 50-year useful life, which would you choose?

Ty  Smith, Biophilic Cities Researcher

Ty is a candidate for Masters in Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia.